Moving beyond the ranks by Avery Wittkamp


Winning first place out of a pool of one can be a little hollow. How many Kettlebell Sport lifters out there can relate to that statement?

Avery Wittkamp knows this all too well. Here is her story of how her journey in the sport led her to focus on moving beyond the ranks.

It's not uncommon to have zero competitors in your division at a Kettlebell Sport competition. The most fun I’ve ever had at a competition was at an IGSF meet, where I had the chance to sprint against a full flight of competitors with 16kg Snatch. I’ve never felt a rush like that in the sport before!

Without the impetus to face serious competition over the last few years I have spent lifting kettlebells, I focused on the ranks put out by organizations to give me goals and motivation in training. (Find out how kettlebell ranks work here).

Initially, Master of Sport seemed within my range given a little hard work and time.  As the United States moved to align its rankings with international standards, however, the Master of Sport ranking kept receding away from me as I was required to progress to heavier bells.

My coach had a progressive plan for me. It made sense. I followed it, but despite knowing that I couldn't always perform perfectly in competition, I had a hard time dealing with what I perceived as "failures". If I won, but did not achieve the result I knew I could do in practice, I felt like I was moving further from my goals.

The mindset of hitting a certain rank or goal number actually impeded my progress. After a while, my internal focus to meet these standards made competing a miserable experience. To make matters worse, I would see online videos of teenagers doing more repetitions than me with heavier bells. How were they so young and so good? Was I not working hard enough?

After talking with my coach, studying other lifters, and looking at my own training log, I realized I was making a huge mistake. The kids I watched in online videos were not overnight phenoms; they had been working at the sport for years. I knew that the best spent a long time training, but I had no sense of just how many reps, how many sets, and how many years it would take to get to the level I aspired to.

Here are a few lessons you can take away from my kettlebell journey: 

1. New lifters start with too much weight and only focus on achieving the bare minimum reps required for rank.

Instead of staying at a bell weight for months or even years until they have mastered that bell (by hitting a benchmark number of repetitions), beginner lifters are already chasing the next rank with a heavier bell as soon as they have hit bare minimum reps for the previous rank. In almost all cases, these people are not ready for a heavier kettlebell.

In the U.S., lifters have the advantage of being able to compete with weights not offered at international level meets where only Amateur (24 and 16 kg) and Professional (32 and 24 kg) bell sizes are allowed. Take advantage of this! Spending a few years competing with lighter weights is the best way to develop competitive experience and confidence on the platform.

2. Progress is S-L-O-W at the Professional level. 

If you are competing and training with only the Professional level bells, then expect your rate of improvement to be slow. REALLY SLOW. Most elite lifters see a 10-20% increase with their reps every year if they are already competent at the lift. The demands of training and competing with the Professional level bells will require lifters to focus solely on Kettlebell Sport year round.

3. Kettlebell Sport is a long journey - be patient. 

Many novice and experienced lifters moan about their slow rate of improvement or inability to conquer the next kettlebell size, and then I discover they have only been lifting the weight for 1-2 years. They have badly flawed expectations. Keep working. (And if you don’t have an experienced coach guiding you on your path to reach your goals, find one!)

You don’t have to be born with good genes to become great. You have to be stubborn enough to stick with the sport even when you’re frustrated. You have to practice over and over again until you improve.

4. Facebook and Instagram are not a good way to assess your training level. 

This can be hard especially if you train by yourself or only have access to your coach online. I say this because while being inspired by your fellow lifters is important, remember that their results and training are not your path to success. People put their best successes on social media. Give them a thumbs up, admire their achievements, and then get focused on your personal goals.

Remember that the champions whose technique is most admired have put in a ton of work over a long period of time. Elite lifters start young and work for years on mastering this sport. As an amateur, it's easy to think these athletes have abilities that are innate or superhuman. While genetics, mental toughness, and ambition play a strong role in the development of elite athletes, none of that matters without consistent hard work.

5. Be ambitious and stay dedicated. 

When I first started lifting, I never thought I would be able to do more than 20kg in Snatch. I imposed this limitation on myself because at the time, no American women snatched heavier than this, and very few did high repetitions or even lasted ten minutes. As I became more experienced, however, I saw Russian women lifting heavier bells and I knew I would be able to eventually if I set my mind to it.

Once I shifted my focus from hitting the rank numbers to really mastering my technique at each kettlebell weight, I started to enjoy the practice itself. In fact, at this point in my kettlebell career, I enjoy the practice much more than competing. Hitting a technical goal at home is often more satisfying than performing in competition.


Avery Wittkamp is the Head Coach at CrossFit NYC, one of the first and biggest CrossFit gyms in the world. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Self-Proclaimed "Queen of CMS" in various organizations, she holds multiple Candidate of Master of Sport in 20 kg Snatch (137 reps) and 20 kg Long Cycle (121 reps). She loves the Snatch and is proud of her competition personal bests in 16 kg Snatch (216 reps) and 16 kg Snatch Half-Marathon (477 reps).